Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced today to life in prison without
parole after pleading guilty to murder in the beating-death of a young
woman hiker in the north Georgia mountains.
During a hearing in Dawson County Superior Court, District Attorney
Lee Darragh said the plea agreement was signed earlier in the day.
The 61-year-old Hilton attended the hearing in an orange jumpsuit and a bulletproof vest. Judge Bonnie Oliver asked Hilton how he pleaded. He replied, "Guilty.''
He had been indicted on a single count of murder yesterday in a specially called session of the Dawson County grand jury. The indictment charges he killed Meredith Emerson by blunt force trauma to her head on January 4th.
Darragh said Hilton intended to abduct Emerson to take money from her bank accounts but eventually he knew he would take her life. Darragh said on January 4th Hilton told Emerson he was going to let her go and then struck her several times with a jack handle until she died.
Authorities have said Emerson was believed to have been kidnapped in Union County and killed in Dawson County have said.
Emerson's body was found nearly 50 miles from where she vanished during a New Year's Day hike.
Emerson disappeared near Blood Mountain in Union County.
An autopsy report says Emerson was beaten to death and then decapitated three days after her disappearance.
Hilton was the last person seen with Emerson on the hiking trail and had tried to use her credit card, according to his arrest warrant.
Investigators in North Carolina and Florida also have looked at Hilton to see if he was involved in killings in those states.